Pilates is not a regulated approach
By Myriam Pelletier
13 years ago, when I was training to become a Pilates Instructor no one knew what Pilates was. People’s reaction was the same: “What is that?” It was hard to explain what it was while I was going through my certification training. I knew that it made me feel good, it improved my posture and it was taking my back pains away. It was transforming me. It was difficult to describe in a handful of words what ‘it’ was. “It works the core” was one of my answers; or “it creates balance between your muscular and skeletal systems”, or “it straightens your spine”. Now, after years of teaching, I tell people: “Pilates teaches you how to use your body efficiently”. But what I omit or, rather, do not emphasize is that it very much depends on which method of training you embrace and who teaches you.
Do you know that there is more than one school of training for Pilates? Do you know what the differences between those schools are? Have you ever wonder what is involved in becoming be a Pilates Instructor?
Depending on your health and fitness goals, these are important questions to ask and answers to have.
For years, Pilates was looked upon as an amazing exercise routine that can really help when dealing with joint and back issues, herniated discs, loss of bone density, post injuries, hip replacement, etc. Unfortunately, public opinion is changing and so is the opinion of physiotherapists, chiropractors, RMTs and osteopaths as they are seeing more and more people injured from Pilates. The main reason for this is that Pilates is not a regulated discipline. It means that if one were so inclined, he or she could certify over one weekend by learning a series of exercises and be called a “Pilates Instructor” by Monday. I’ve met fitness instructors that taught Pilates after watching some videos.
When Pilates became mainstream, the demand for Pilates in gyms exploded and there was an immediate need for Pilates instructors. At the time, a Pilates certification could take a minimum of one year and up to four years to complete. So, naturally, there was an opportunity to make money by offering certification programs that would offer quick training. But I don’t think anyone considered the possible consequences of this uncontrolled approach.
To complicate the matter further, all certification programs are not the same. Some are better suited for dancers than the general public. Others target fitness instructors and athletes, some are more rehab-oriented and work with the population that sits behind a desk all day long. As you can see, the need for each group is going to be very different.
In my opinion, a Pilates certification should not be like a buffet, where you pick and choose what you want. It’s a complete method and by picking only one segment an instructor will only have an incomplete perspective of this amazing work. But perhaps I’m a puritan.
At its core, the Pilates Methodology is deep. It offers an insight on how the body can function with ease and fluidity by restoring the health of your spine. There is a big difference between teaching someone how to move and teaching exercises. The former is way more challenging and requires a deeper knowledge of the anatomy, biomechanics, the nervous system, and connective tissues.
Assessing someone and figuring out how they use their body is a skill an instructor learns to practice because often what works for one person is not necessarily good for the next person. It’s not a recipe. The instructor has to understand the method as a whole and then wrack his or her brain to figure out what is best from the Pilates repertoire for the person in front of him or her.
Before engaging in a Pilates exercise routine, figure out what you, as a client, want from it. Then be informed about who you’re going to work with, especially if you need to work on a specific issue or deal with an injury. “Not all Pilates Instructors are created equal” wrote Sherry Lowe-Bernie of Personalizing Pilates Inc. “Since Pilates exercises deal with moving and balancing the spine and associated muscles, it’s important to find a teacher who is going to help you, not hurt you”.
To find the teacher who will help and not hurt you, questions need to be asked; questions like: “where did you do your training?” Most studios have a web site where you will find that information. Research it. If you see the name of a certification mentioned, Google it and read about it.
“How long was your certification program?”
“What types of Pilates are you trained to teach?” Consider what ‘buffet menu’ they chose.
If you have a specific condition, ask if the instructor has had previous experience in teaching people with that condition. You can also ask for references.
You, as the client, also need to ask yourself: What is your instructor doing while in the class? For group classes or a one-on-one setting, your instructor should be watching what you are doing. The Pilates method is based on assessing and correcting faulty movement patterns. Some instructors will even provide hands-on correction.
Most importantly, ask yourself: Do you get along with this person? As Sherry Lowe-Bernie explains, “The Pilates method is a process. Some of my clients have been with me for 13 years. That is longer than my marriage. You might end up developing a strong relationship with your instructor, so listen to your instinct.”